Category Archives: Election ’16

What Is The Best Way To Advance Liberty?

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In the wake of Rand Paul’s departure from the presidential race, the question being asked is what is the best path to advance liberty? Should libertarians work within GOP, the Libertarian Party, or even the Democratic Party? Should libertarians be anti-establishment or should they try to become the mainstream? Should libertarians focus on politics, policy, or reject both altogether in favor of free market solutions?

The answer is all of the above. There is no one path to advance the ideas of liberty. Nor will there ever be a utopian society that is 100% libertarian, nor should there be in a pluralistic society. Liberal ideas and ideals advance and change over time.

There are some ideas we need to dismiss off hand.

  1. Building a libertarian safe space. Congratulations to the Free State Project on getting enough people willing to move to New Hampshire to trigger the move. However, I still question its usefulness. What is the point of trying to move libertarians into a state and take it over as a utopian example to the rest of the world? Wouldn’t it best to have libertarians spread out all over to try and influence change everywhere? Besides, isn’t a mass migration to take over an argument against open borders?
  2. Reject coalition building. Libertarians need to build coalitions with everyone. There are libertarian conservatives, libertarian centrists, libertarian progressives, and classical liberals (such as myself). Many Americans and others around the world have some kind of libertarian leanings and there are very, very few actual libertarians. Unless libertarians just want to yell in the wilderness, you have to work with others.
  3. Lose the savior complex. The United States, or any country for that matter, will likely never elect a libertarian president, ever. The majority of voters are not libertarians and never will be. That’s fine, in a free and pluralistic society we need voters with all sorts of views. That’s what debate is for. Even if a libertarian did get elected president, libertarians would be disappointed because a president is not all powerful. Process matters as much as results do.

The prospects for liberty are great, regardless of the struggles of one particular presidential candidate. In fact, liberty means many things to many people and that’s good. While authoritarianism is rearing its ugly head in both political parties this year, I’m confident we can defeat it.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

The Growing Cult of the Imperial Presidency

His Highness the President

Yesterday, President Obama used executive orders to further burden the fundamental right of self-defense. On the same day, in an effort to defend his Senate absenteeism, GOP candidate Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the concept of the imperial presidency.

Let us consider Obama’s action on gun control first. His executive orders grow the size of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), commit taxpayers to additional spending on programs he likes, and purport to expand the scope of existing background check requirements.

This did not constitute circumventing Congress, according to Senior White House advisor Valerie Jarett, because Congress “made it very clear they are not going to act.”

It is unclear what practical effect will be achieved by the expanded background checks. The existence of a loophole seems to have been exaggerated in the first place. Any change likely would not have made a difference in the high profile shootings supposedly motivating the President. As Jacob Sullum at Reason’s Hit & Run noted:

[The President] recited a litany of horrific, headline-grabbing mass shootings while proposing policies that would have done nothing to prevent them. Anticipating that his non sequitur would draw criticism, he boldly proclaimed that good intentions matter more than actual results…

The Obama faction of the cult-of-the-president does not care. They conceive of rights as things we get from parent-like leaders. Like well-behaved children, we ought to be grateful for the privileges we are permitted—not whining over the prerogatives of adults.

But if they are upheld (by the very courts GOP candidates like Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee insist should defer to the political branches) Obama’s orders will have at least one meaningful impact, even if it is not on the homicide rate. The impact will be on the structure and scope of government power—and its increasing centralization in a single individual: an imperial president with the power and mandate to act where the people’s elected representatives have refrained from doing so.

As Bonnie Kristian, a communications consultant for Young Americans for Liberty, writes at Rare:

In most matters, contrary George W. Bush’s infamous assertion, the president is constitutionally not “the decider.”

He’s the doer.

Congress is supposed to be the decider—even (or sometimes especially) when it doesn’t do what the president wants.

Even this misses the target.

We are the deciders.

Rights are not things we are given, not privileges handed out to children by benevolent parent-kings. Rights are ours for the having unless and until we yield them. The only way to do that is via elected representatives. Even then our ability to give away rights is limited by the Constitutional framework our founders had the foresight to put in place.

It is not meant to be easy to give rights away.

Jarett and Obama are therefore wrong to lay blame on Congress’s “failure to act.” It is not that Congress has failed to act. It is that we, the people, have not in sufficient numbers directed our elected representatives to infringe further upon our fundamental rights of self-defense.

Use of executive orders to circumvent the collective will of the people’s representatives fundamentally alters our constitutional structure. The left might embrace this trend now, while their man is at the helm, and his target is guns. But how will they feel when it is a Ted Cruz or a Donald Trump circumventing Congress? When the executive power is used again to send troops to fight undeclared wars?

Incidentally, last year, Obama was the biggest seller of arms in the world, servicing buyers like Saudi Arabia and Syrian rebels (even though Congress has not declared war).

I wonder if he does background checks…

It is disappointing that on the same day Obama issued his executive orders, Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the idea that Congress is of secondary import to the will of the President.

His comments came in the context of his chronic Senate absenteeism, including for the end-of-year spending and tax bill vote, which has provoked criticism from other GOP candidates, including Rand Paul.

Well, you know, the difference between Marco Rubio and I is, I show up for work. And we had the biggest vote of the whole year, voting on a trillion dollars worth of spending, and he didn’t show up. So, yes, I think he ought to resign or give his pay back to the taxpayer.

When asked yet another question on the issue, Rubio’s attempt to defend himself was a big, depressing fail implicitly endorsing the growing cult of the imperial presidency.

I have missed votes this year. You know why? Because … only a president can set the agenda. We’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.

Perhaps Rubio could point us to where in the Constitution the power to “set the agenda” is granted exclusively to the President.

I checked Article II and didn’t see it.

You know how everyone has that thing? The thing drives them crazy? Like the sound of nails on a chalkboard? Maybe it is baristas misspelling names. Or your when it should be you’re. People who use literally to mean figuratively.

That song from Frozen.

For me, it is people talking about “our leaders.”

U.S. citizens don’t have leaders. We have representatives. They don’t tell us what to do—we tell them how to voteSee Article I, The Constitution.

We also have a chief executive. His job is to execute the laws passed by Congress, deal with foreign countries, and provide information to Congress. He also serves as Commander-in-Chief of the military.

But not of us.

To the contrary, we pay him for his “Services.” See Article II, The Constitution.

No one commands us. No one leads us. And no one rules us. That is what it means to be free.

The number of people who react with hostility and defensiveness to this notion is bizarre to me. It is as if they want to be led, like when I first left home and missed having my parents tell me what I should do. Being leaderless means being responsible.

So maybe deep down, those who would rather not shoulder such burdens harbor an unconscious longing for the days of monarchs. When the best-born among us led the way atop magnificent horses, swords and armor flashing in the sunlight, obliterating responsibility by demanding complete allegiance—leaving we lesser souls to imagine ourselves as scullery-maid-turned-princess from the safe distance of our own servitude.

Easier to daydream of being transported to the prince’s ball in an enchanted pumpkin wearing a gown made of magic than to actually climb up on a horse of one’s own.

But the willing subjects are as dangerous as the would-be kings.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Revisiting Rand Paul’s Campaign Again

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Friday, I wrote a piece about Rand Paul’s presidential campaign and why it is failing. Some people disagreed with it saying I left out a few things. Some of the things they I said I left out was the poor polling numbers of guys like Rick Santorum this time in 2011. Another thing, they said I left out was the fact the campaign was “turning things around.” Finally, some people said I left out a recent poll that showed Paul at 7% nationally.

Guess what, these people were right. I didn’t have all of my facts lined up for that post. I did my readers a disservice. I’m sorry. I’m going to try to make it right by looking at those facts.

The Santorum 2011 comparisons

One of the things some critics said was that I wasn’t looking at the big picture. After all, it is early October. Here’s where the race stood nationally four years ago today.

RCP1

Ignore the top numbers and look at the numbers highlighted on the chart. Perry was beginning his decline after his awful debates. Romney was holding steady as he had all year. Gingrich more or less held steady as did Paul. Bachmann was heading towards her collapse after the victory at the Ames Straw Poll. Finally, Santorum was at the bottom at 3%.

Where Santorum ultimately shined was in Iowa. Here’s what polling looked like 4 years ago today:

RCP2

Again, Perry on top with Bachmann in 2nd. Cain was about to begin his surge which ended after sexual harrassment allegations surfaced. Santorum was at 4.3% and second to last. The top 3 in Iowa wound up being Romney (who was 3rd in this poll), Santorum, and then Paul (who was 4th). To add insult to injury, Santorum only raised a little over $682,000 in the previous quarter.

Here’s how Santorum turned it around, he made this a one-state race for him. He visited every county in Iowa and he tapped his base of evangelicals. He was also helped by Perry’s poor debate performances, the collapse of Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann’s collapse over her anti-vaxxer comments.

Here’s where the Santorum comparison fails, it’s a much more crowded field than 2011-12. Paul is currently tied for 8th in Iowa. Plus, Paul has a negative X-factor in play, the indictments of his political allies related to the Kent Sorenson vote bying scandal. Caucus states though are a pain in the ass to poll because of the limited number of people who actually attend them.

Is the campaigning turning things around?

That’s a line I keep getting from Paul supporters. The best example of this thinking is an article on Buzzfeed from Friday.

Here’s the thing, they may be doing it. However, there is no way we can know if this is true until a few weeks from now. If the polls start moving upwards, more money starts coming in, and the campaign settles on a strategy; they can say he’s turning things around. This one is wait and see.

What about that new Reuters poll?

I was too dismissive of a new poll from Reuters/Ipsos that came out on Friday. It showed Paul at 6.2% which is an increase from 2.6% from last week. Before I wrote the first piece, I did not know about it. I was initially dismissive of it because it was a poll of all adults. However, Reuters/Ipsos lets you put filters on the poll by limiting it to likely Republican voters. With that filter, Paul’s numbers are 5.6% which is an increase from 2.5%.

I dismissed the poll too rashly. However, the polls from Pew, Gravis, and IBD/Tipp all continue to show Paul in the 2-3% range.

Long story short, I messed up in the first post because I was too dismissive of evidence from the other side. Part of that is due to my own personal prejudice against hardcore Paul supporters from my many online battles with them since 2007. That is 100% on me and I owe my readers an apology.

Now is Rand Paul going to drop out of the race? He has $2 million left, he has no need to at least before the next debate on October 28th. He has plenty of time to turn his campaign around. Whether or not he does is another matter entirely.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Why Is Rand Paul’s Campaign Failing And What Can Libertarians Learn From It?

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Many people were expecting Rand Paul to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. However, as of writing Paul averages at just 2.3% support according to Real Clear Politics. What the hell happened? Why is the “most interesting man in politics” struggling so badly?

A couple of (pre?) autopsy pieces came out today that try to explains it. First up is Jerry Taylor, the head of the newly launched Niskanen Center, who had a piece on FoxNews.com. He argues that the reason why Paul failed is because there never was a libertarian moment in the first place.

According to an August survey by the independent polling firm Eschelon Insights, far and away the most popular candidate nationwide among libertarian-inclined Republicans is Donald Trump, the least libertarian candidate in the race.

Libertarians who can’t stomach Trump scattered their support without any ideological rhyme or reason (11 percent for Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, 9 percent for Ted Cruz and John Kasich, 8 percent for Carly Fiorina, 7 percent for Paul).

The secret of Trump’s appeal to Paul’s base is that a large segment of the “Ron Paul Revolution” leavened its libertarianism with a pony keg of crazy. Birthers, 9/11 Truthers, a wide assortment of conspiracy theorists (many of whom believe the Federal Reserve to be a modern manifestation of the Illuminati), and naked racists rivaled the number of reasonably sober libertarian-ish voters among the faithful.

Very little I can disagree with here. Way back in 2007, we were making the point that many people in the Ron Paul rEVOLution were part of the wacko fringe. Taylor’s description of many (but not all) Ron Paul supporters is dead on. You have nutcases in every political movement, but the rEVOLution seemed to attract more of them than usual. Rand to his credit has refused to pander to these people, for the most part. It would also be dishonest to say Ron Paul himself agreed with these fringe nutters, but he hasn’t been as hostile to them as Rand.

The only thing I would point out is the libertarian(ish) vote comes in many different variations. If Libertarians (capitalized intentionally) don’t agree on everything, why should we expect libertarian-leaning Republicans?

Taylor goes on to make a few points that I have to disagree with, at least partially.

Sure, one can argue that Paul has run a sub-par campaign and that a more adroit effort would have produced better results. But given the above, it is hard to argue, as some do, that Paul would have done better had he run as more of a libertarian.

 

 

If real libertarian votes were there for the taking, someone would have come along and done the harvesting.

 

 

If there was truly a $20 (electoral) bill lying on the sidewalk, it’s hard to believe that none of the other 14 starving candidates would bother to pick it up.

Let me start with where I agree with Taylor. I do believe that the “libertarian vote” has been overstated. Only 7% of the American electorate is libertarian according to the Public Religion Institute poll Taylor cited. If the libertarian vote was a major factor in American politics, the Libertarian Party would be a major party.

However, another 15% of American voters lean libertarian. For example, the author is a “libertarian leaner” but not a full blown libertarian. Also, 12% of the Republican party’s voters are libertarian. The problem is that they may not be doctrinaire libertarians. Those generally join the Libertarian Party and we see how well it performs. The libertarian(ish) votes are there, Paul failed to grab them.

Which brings me to the second piece of this series, one by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post. He lays out four reasons why Paul failed.

  • The libertarian strain in the GOP peaked in 2014.
  • Paul’s move to court the establishment cost him among libertarians.
  • Paul has been a very weak fundraiser.
  • Rand hasn’t been a good candidate.

I would add a fifth reason which is an extremely poor campaign that seemed to lack a basic, consistent strategy. First they were going to fight nationwide. Then, New Hampshire became must win. The new strategy is to get some wins in other caucus states. Problem is, the first ones don’t vote until March 1. Ask President Rudy Guiliani how waiting until after the early states vote to get your first victory works out.

Two of the four reasons Cillizza pointed out would’ve been mitigated by Paul being a better candidate. Paul would’ve been better able to sell a more non-interventionist foreign policy and been able to raise the money if he was a better candidate. Taylor’s article points out a large reason why Paul lost his dad’s base. However, if Paul was a better communicator, he could’ve better reconciled his more pragmatic viewpoints with hardcore libertarianism. Instead, he got the reputation that he’s a flip-flopper. Finally, Paul just didn’t communicate to voters on things they were interested in.

Does this mean that libertarians should give up on politics? Nope. Instead of libertarians should realize that the market for hardcore libertarianism is very limited. Most people are not inclined to support laissez faire economics, believe America should have a foreign presence, and are willing to accept state controls of some behavior. That’s fine.

Instead, libertarians should focus on coalition building and advancing libertarian policies pragmatically. That involves showing a willingness to compromise. Finally, it may involve grabbing the “low-hanging fruit” of policy instead of big ticket items such as the ending the Federal Reserve which appeal to libertarians, but have very little interest to the average citizen.

Now of course Rand Paul may turn things around and make the most improbable of comebacks. However, if he doesn’t this will provide many valuable lessons to be learned. Will libertarians learn them?

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

How Donald Trump Has Destroyed The Republican Party

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The Republican Party is dead in its current form. The coalition of classical liberals, country club business types; and since Reagan religious conservatives, neocons, and populists, has been irrevocably broken. The man who gave it its final coup de grace is a toupeed billionaire blowhard named Donald Trump.

Trump has run a campaign that more resembles the National Front of France than anything else that has been in American politics for decades. Ben Domenech at The Federalist says that Trump could transform the GOP into a party based on identity politics for white guys. He’s right and it’s terrible for the country.

Over the next few months, even if Trump fails to win the Republican nomination, three parts of the old Republican party coalition: classical liberals (whether they self-identify as conservative, Constitutionalist, or libertarian), religious conservatives, and the country clubbers; will have to decide if they can be a part of a Trump-influenced party. Trump’s xenophobic populism is anti-free market and anti-Christian.

Let’s first examine how we got here. Since the Cold War ended, the Republican coalition lost a sense of purpose. It briefly got it back in the 1990s with the Contract With America, but the election of George W. Bush in 2000 knocked the party off track. The party that believed in limited government spent more than LBJ. The party that was once skeptical of foreign interventions launched a war of choice in Iraq. The party that claimed federalism as a principle expanded the role of Washington in everything from education to gay marriage. With the failures of the Iraq War and an economic crash on the minds of Amerians, Democrats were able to easily take control of the entire Federal government.

In the Obama era, we’ve seen even more Federal government intrusions in everything from the food we eat to religious freedom. The Tea Party was inspired as a backlash against the intrusive Federal government of both the Obama and Bush eras. Meanwhile, some Republicans saw it as an opportunity to rebrand from the disasterous Bush era. Still much of the opposition to Obama took on an ugly racial overtone that was a prelude to the current culture war.

Which brings us to the end of the prequel of this terrible tale. The country has erupted in a cultural cold war. The left, which is now fully embracing cultural Marxism, is pushing the politics of racial and cultural grievance. They’re not only content to defeat what they see is white, conservative privilege but they also want to shoot the wounded survivors of the battle. We see this with Christian wedding businesses who refuse to service gay weddings for example. Much of the reason why people support Trump is because they want to take part in a backlash against the uber-PC, cultural Marxist crowd. They see a Republican Party and conservative movement that is not defending their freedom and not fufulling their campaign promises. They’re angry and they’re going to Trump because “he fights.”

But when you delve into the substance of Trumpism, it’s fascism. Classical liberals will not go along with it. Religious conservatives are more interesting. There is definitely an age divide. Older religious conservatives may go along with Trump, but I have a hard time believing younger ones will. Polls show that younger evangelical Christians are more politically tolerant, even if they’re still socially conservative. As the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore points out, there’s not a lot of evangelical support for Trump. Finally, I have a hard time believing my neocon and country club friends will buy into a man who wants to retreat America from the world.

What could this anti-Trump coalition look like? An anti-statist movement that rejects nationalism, but still believes in a strong America playing a leading role in the world. History shows that a liberal democratic society can only exist if it is protected by a great power. It will be unapologetially for free markets, anti-crony capitalist, and a realistic approach on immigration. It will be federalist in nature returning as much power as possible from Washington D.C. and to states, communities, and individuals.

Whether this anti-Trump coalition will be a new political party or built upon the ruins of the Republican Party is yet to be determined. Who could be attracted to it are classical liberals, non-statist religious conservatives, some neocons who can see limits on American power but still want America to play an active role in the world, and many others who were previously not a part of the Republican Party such as independents, moderates, and perhaps some of the old left.

I think that Trump will kill the Republican Party as we know it, but in its place could be something that could be bad for American politics or it could be the birth of a new classical liberal movement. Only time will tell which one will it be.

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.
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